The Defense (Quickly) Rests

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DENVER: Just three and a half days after starting, Timothy McVeigh's defense rested in the Oklahoma City bombing trial. The whiz-bang ending followed less than 24 hours of defense arguments. "I would say that I put on more evidence in defense of a DUI than he's put on in this case," said Oklahoma City criminal attorney Irven Box. "I don't see that they've damaged the government at all." But TIME's Patrick Cole reports that after Judge Richard Matsch disallowed two key components of the defense strategy, attorney Stephen Jones simply didn't have anything more to present: "One, the defense wasn't allowed to introduce its theory that a foreign conspiracy was behind the bombing," Cole notes. "Two, Judge Richard Matsch ruled that testimony from Carole Howe wasn't relevant." Howe was an ATF informant who lived at the white separatist settlement of Elohim City, Oklahoma. Before the bombing, she had told the government of a plot to blow up a federal building in Tulsa or Oklahoma City. Jones wanted to introduce her testimony along with records showing McVeigh made a phone call to Elohim City two weeks before the bombing to show that he was mereley part of a larger conspiracy. Alan Dershowitz noted that the decision not to admit Howe's testimony could provide Jones with grounds for an appeal if McVeigh loses. With much of their case disallowed, McVeigh's defense focused on three elements: Showing evidence that a shadowy 'John Doe number two' was involved in the plot, casting doubts on the accuracy of the embattled FBI Crime Lab's work in the case, and discrediting key prosecution witness Michael Fortier. Cole notes that while the other two tacks fizzled, the defense was able to make inroads Wednesday morning by playing tapes of Fortier's wiretapped telephone conversations, in which he jokingly boasted of making a million dollars by concocting a story about the case. Still, it may not be enough in the face of a mountain of evidence and what is widely acknowledged to be a masterful job by the prosecution. Closing arguments will be presented Thursday, which means deliberations in the case could begin as early as Friday.